In June 2014, BBC World correspondent Yalda Hakim watched the television as a brutal militia took over large swathes of Iraq. Twelve months earlier she had been smuggled into Mosul, armed with a mobile phone, to document the lives of the Arab world’s oldest paragliding club.
Whilst watching the devastating television coverage, Yalda wondered what the fate of the paragliders that she had met would be, and decided to venture back to Iraq. She learned that many of the paragliders had become refugees and had fled to Turkey. However, one of the paragliders, a recently divorced woman in her 40s, who used to fly as a way to feel free from the destructive environment of Iraq, had been executed on the streets of Mosul for speaking up against ISIS. ‘I think perhaps that she would feel very proud that that’s how she went,’ said Yalda.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was ‘Be Bold for Change’. Yalda explained that every one of us can make a change in other people’s lives and for her this means giving a platform to voiceless people.
The Women’s Activities Portfolio (WAP) held their second International Women’s Day event at the Ismaili Centre in collaboration with Women Empowered. Through a series of engaging talks, speakers Yalda Hakim, Shainul Kassam, Sach Kukadia, Geeta Sidhu-Robb and Naseem Jivraj guided the audience through their personal journeys to being bold and affecting change in their own lives and the lives of others.
Shainul knew that she wanted to be a lawyer from the age of 14 but the statistics were not in her favour. Today, a female Asian partner in a mid-sized law firm represents only 1.1% of the profession.
She would have had only a 1% chance of becoming a partner in a City law firm and even then, she would have to wait a decade or more to become someone that she had decided to be when she was 14. It was this gender disparity that drove Shainul to become the first female under 30 to have started a law firm in the UK. ‘They wouldn't let me have a seat at their table so I built my own table,’ Shainul explained.
Sach attributes his success to his mother’s influence. Sach changed his life and became an entrepreneur, founding secretsales.com with his brother due to his mother’s advice to ‘work for yourself, work with family and find the next big thing.’
For Geeta, the decision to leave an unhappy marriage with three children under the age of 7 and £150 in her pocket was the start of her journey to being bold for change. Geeta emphasises the power of choice; at the time she had the power to choose to return to her husband or to take up a council flat, and she chose neither. Geeta chose to give her children the life that they deserved and after much hardship started her own nutrition business, Nosh Detox.
Naseem is also an advocate for change. After noticing tension in her home environment, Naseem practiced the triple A strategy; acknowledging her emotional behaviours, accepting her role in the situation and assessing her emotional needs. At the age of 42 she decided to go back to academia, the triple A strategy being instrumental in her realisation that to feel confident she needed to be academically sound. Naseem obtained an MSc in Social Anthropology and is using her education to effect change in the lives of victims of gender violence.
Each one of the speakers’ journeys underlined that we must not sit back, watch and simply do nothing. As Malala once said ‘do not wait for someone else to come and speak for you. It is you who can change the world’.